Then and Now: What My Great Grandmother Saw

 

Great Grandma was born in 1900 and died in 1998. What would it have been like to witness these advances in medicine, technology, and opportunity for all?

  In her early years  By the end of her life 
  Expansion and Development: The American West was dominated by miners, ranchers, and cowboys who wouldn’t hesitate to use guns to defend themselves and rode horses right into the saloons.  A hub of innovation and wealth, the West is irrigated, tame, and high-tech, with fantastic freeway systems. 
  Education for the Masses: Schooling was basic, and students were still taught in one-room schoolhouses. Not many advanced beyond grade school.   Most students are encouraged to go on to college and beyond. Schooling for the wealthy looks similar to education for the middle and lower classes. Scholarships and loans abound for both the ambitious and not so ambitious.  
Travel: Continental train travel was just beginning. Horses were still the norm, and roads were rough. Travel by land or sea took weeks.   We board a plane, watch in-flight movies, reach our destination in a matter of hours, and consider an overnight delay to be a huge failure of the system. We all own efficient, fast vehicles. 
Air and Space Technology: Flight had not yet been invented.   Supersonic jets, moon landing, the launch of the International Space Station  
  Quality of Daily Living: The majority of our ancestors still sustained themselves on farms or in factories, going barefoot in the South and getting hookworms, supporting large families, and laboring with cooking and cleaning. Refrigerators and indoor bathrooms were slow in coming. Daily bathing and showering was not a thing.   Most people expect to own their own homes, enjoy modern appliances and daily entertainment, have access to more mass-produced and affordable goods. The way is paved for politicians to use the lack of in-home Internet as an example of poverty in the US. Most people take hot showers or baths every day.  
Medicine: Diabetes was a killer. The first open-heart surgery was decades away. Years of agonizing trial and error lay ahead to pave the way for advanced life-saving surgeries. At least we’d stopped bleeding patients and knew about germs.  Heart, liver, and kidney transplants. Diabetes as a manageable disease. Standardized care and efficiency. We all know someone who wouldn’t be here without modern medicine.   
Mysteries of Life: There were painstaking fruit fly experiments to isolate inherited traits and recognize patterns in genetics.  We began to sequence worm genomes. Human eggs could be fertilized outside the womb.  
Published in Group Writing
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  1. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    My grandmother was born in 1895.

    Once I drove her to visit a friend.  We were on one of those roads that go arrow straight across the prairie for miles and miles.

    Me: “This road seems like it goes on forever.”

    Her: “You ought to try it in a horse and buggy.”

    • #1
  2. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    More than a century ago, my great-grandfather died at a ripe old age after being struck by a horse-drawn wagon in downtown Minneapolis.  He and his sons had built railroads and operated other businesses. 

    I got the impression that for them, wars, constant technological change, and population shifts across the continent were all just part of the American experience.  An expectation of change (my grandfather lived in every state from Minnesota to Washington as they laid track–then he later moved and did business in NYC until he retired to FL) was kind of built-in.

    As much as an expectation of/immunity to change seems to be built into being American, it does not seem that we were ready for the shift in the moral and cultural landscape.  Somehow that feels like more of an unexpected gut-punch.

    • #2
  3. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    My dad used to tell me about watching the Hindenburg fly over Providence on its way to Lakehurst.  

    It really amazes me that at age 64 I’ve been alive for over a fourth of American presidents.  We are a young republic.

    • #3
  4. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    My grandparents were all born in the 1890s. I have long thought that people born just before the beginning of the twentieth century may have seen the largest number of really big technological developments affecting their individual lives that any generation in history had or has seen.

    After  visiting (when I was ten years old) the still-small town in which my maternal grandmother was born and grew up, and going inside the log cabin in which she had been born, I was even more impressed that later in her life my grandmother was happy to fly on airliners that were bigger than the house in which she had been born. The two room schoolhouse in which she taught in that town was the largest building she had ever seen until she and my grandfather moved to a city when she was almost thirty years old. Although most of her flying was in 1960s era jetliners, by the time she died she had ridden a few times in giant Boeing 747 airliners that would have dwarfed any man-made structure she had seen growing up. 

    My maternal grandfather was an enthusiastic adopter of motor vehicle ownership as soon as Henry Ford made cars relatively affordable via the Model T. I have also been in the building that housed the dealership from which my grandfather took delivery of several Model Ts. He took his family on many motoring vacations. My paternal grandfather always preferred train travel over car travel. But both of my grandfathers died before jet airline travel became widely available, so I don’t think either of them ever flew on an airliner. 

    I would add communication to the list of marvels that their generation saw. In their childhood, there was postal service, but not home delivery. My maternal grandmother grew up in the town, so getting to the post office was relatively easy. But my maternal grandfather’s family farmed, and the trip to the post office was a long walk. In fact, one of my grandfather’s sisters was killed when she was swept away crossing a swollen creek to get from the farm to the post office. By the ends of their lives, even though we lived in California, and my grandparents all lived in Florida, we could converse regularly over the telephone – a device certainly not available in any houses my grandparents grew up in. 

    • #4
  5. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

    The say the printing press ushered in the greatest change in a 1000 years including the Protestant Reformation.    They also say the internet will bring about similar radical change that has not happened yet.   Perhaps in 500 years they will say that the year 2000 was the dawn of the new age–perhaps the beginning of living in pods!

    • #5
  6. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    A few years ago I had read about an old woman being asked what was the most significant change she had seen in her life.  Her answer was “paved roads.”  We totally take then for granted, but they really were a tremendous improvement.

    • #6
  7. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    A few years ago I had read about an old woman being asked what was the most significant change she had seen in her life. Her answer was “paved roads.” We totally take then for granted, but they really were a tremendous improvement.

    That’s right up there along with rubber tires.  Which I think I heard someone here on Ricochet relate from an old-timer as the greatest improvement in his lifetime.

    • #7
  8. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Another thing that has changed.

    • #8
  9. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Another thing that has changed.

    My grandfather was born, I think around 1880-something, and died in the early 1980s (I’d have to check).  The two advances he didn’t see take place were railroads and telegraphs.  (He was aware of home computers but not cell phones.)  Personally, I think these two things were the greatest changes in the world of all time.  Both freed riders from riding post horses in order to travel or communicate at a pace more than a few miles an hour all day.

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Flicker (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Another thing that has changed.

    My grandfather was born, I think around 1880-something, and died in the early 1980s (I’d have to check). The two advances he didn’t see take place were railroads and telegraphs. (He was aware of home computers but not cell phones.) Personally, I think these two things were the greatest changes in the world of all time. Both freed riders from riding post horses in order to travel or communicate at a pace more than a few miles an hour all day.

    Many people argue that the changes throughout the 19th century were a lot more important to people’s lives than those that took place throughout the 20th century, and I would agree. 

    Sometimes I’ve stopped on the road and talked to people, asking the age of their house.  I often get answers like, “Sometime in the 1800s,” which isn’t helpful at all.  The world of the 1820s or 1830s was hugely different from the world of the world of the last quarter of that century. 

    • #10
  11. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    “Great Grandma was born in 1900 and died in 1998. What would it have been like to witness these advances in medicine, technology, and opportunity for all?”

    Yeah, all the medicine and cars and planes and electricity are OK, but if she had just lived 10 more years she could have seen Google, Facebook, smart phones, and the rise of digital natives (The Dumbest Generation)

    • #11
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